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Fred Cummins – Prayer, Protest and Football: the Puzzles of Joint Speech

Joint speech is an umbrella term covering choral speech, synchronous speech, chant, and all forms of speech where many people say the same thing at the same. Under an orthodox linguistic analysis, there is nothing here to study, as the formal symbolic structures of joint speech do not appear to differ from those of language arising in other forms of practice. As a result, there is essentially no body of scientific inquiry into practices of joint speaking. Yet joint speaking practices are ubiquitous, ancient, and deeply integrated into rituals and domains to which we accord the highest significance.

I will discuss Joint Speech, as found in prayer, protest, classrooms, and sports stadia around the world. If we merely take the time to look there is much to be found in joint speech that is crying out for elaboration and investigation. I will attempt to sketch the terra incognita that opens up and present a few initial findings (phonetic, anthropological, neuroscientific) that suggest that Joint Speech is far from being a peripheral and exotic special case. It is, rather, a central example of language use that must inform our theories of what language, languaging and subjects are.